After controversy and personal strife, refocused pro regains PGA Tour card
When PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan met with players at the Canadian Open in June, the mood was “tense” and “heated.” Those were Monahan’s words, and the atmosphere was understandable, given just hours earlier Monahan had announced on CNBC that the Tour was partnering with its one-time bitter rival, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which funds LIV Golf.
Among the most agitated players in the room was Grayson Murray, a 29-year-old one-time Tour winner with a history of colorful antics and controversial opinions. In 2017, his rookie season on Tour, Murray invited a Playboy model to caddie for him at the Masters Par-3 Contest (Murray failed to qualify for the Masters so the stunt never had a chance to materialize); fired a caddie mid-round; and apologized for an inappropriate tweet he sent to a high school girl. In the final round of the 2022 U.S. Open, Murray flung his putter into the fescue and snapped an iron over his knee en route to a 10-over 80; four months later he crashed a scooter in Bermuda, leaving him unconscious, in need of 50 stitches and with a serious knee injury. Last year, Murray called out Kevin Na’s pace of play on social media, which, according to Murray, led to Na confronting Murray on the range at the Mexico Open.
At the June players meeting in Toronto, Murray, according to multiple reports, came in with a head of steam and berated Monahan for betraying and lying to the Tour membership. A player in attendance told Golf Channel, “I forget exactly what led to this, but Rory [McIlroy] goes, ‘Just play better, Grayson,’ and that got a bad response from the crowd.”
According to the report, Murray told McIlroy to, “F— off.”
McIlroy’s jab was only partly accurate, because while Murray had indeed not been playing well on the PGA Tour (by way of his limited-start past champion status), missing five cuts in seven apearances in 2023 to that point, he was showing signs of life elsewhere. A week before the Canadian Open, Murray had finished third at a Korn Ferry Tour event, in North Carolina, which came just two weeks after he had won a KFT tournament, in Kansas City. Murray just wasn’t seeing the same success on the PGA Tour. That continued to be the case in Canada, where he missed another cut.
But then, in July, came a positive sign on the PGA Tour: a T6 at the John Deere Classic.
“I think everyone kind of goes through some ups and downs with their confidence,” Murray said after his first-round 64 at TPC Deere Run. “But if you see the results and believe in yourself, then I think there’s no reason that I can’t step on the first tee and think that I’m the best player in the field, without a cocky way of saying it.”
A week later, Murray had another strong PGA Tour finish, tying for seventh at the Barbasol Championship.
Still, he had a long way to go to ascend into the top 125 FedEx Cup point earners for 2023, which would secure him full status for next season. So, Murray kept at it on the Korn Ferry, knowing that finishing top 30 on the KFT points list at season’s end was another route by which he could bolster his PGA Tour status.
Murray’s life in the upper ranks of professional golf has not been easy. In 2021 he wrote on social media (in a post that has since been deleted), that he was dealing with alcohol-abuse issues and that the Tour had put him on probation for an alcohol-related incident at a hotel bar in Hawaii. He added: “No the pga tour didn’t force me to drink. but the pga tour never gave me help. In my 5 years of experience of being on tour not once have i ever had a request been acknowledged by the commissioner or the PAC other than ‘we will get back to you’.” (The Tour, in response, said in a statement, “We can unequivocally say that the PGA Tour is a family, and when a member of that family needs help, we are there for him. That has been the case here and will continue to be.”)
“Why was I drunk?” Murray wrote of the Hawaii incident. “Because I’m a f—ing alcoholic that hates everything to do with the PGA Tour life and that’s my scapegoat. I’ve honestly gotten a lot better since then. Actually a lot better.”
When Murray wrote that since-deleted post in July 2021, he hadn’t made a PGA Tour cut in three months. That same month, he entered treatment for mental-health and alcohol-abuse issues. When Murray returned to competition in 2022, he struggled to find his form. On the PGA Tour that year, he missed seven cuts in 11 tries; in 10 KFT starts, he missed three cuts and twice withdrew, and also failed to improve his PGA Tour status in the KFT finals.
Which led to, in 2023, another year of pinging between the PGA and Korn Ferry circuits.
Murray started the year slowly on both tours, but then, in May, came his first Korn Ferry win since 2016, a sign that he was doing the right things both on and off the course. Murray, who has said he has struggled to use downtime constructively between tournaments, was now spending his off hours engaged in more wholesome activities, like working out or catching a movie. He also realized that, at 29, he still had a lot of golf ahead of him. “I kind of had a coming-to-Jesus moment,” he said in July, “and said, ‘Hey, look, I have an opportunity here. I probably haven’t reached my prime yet. I can get on a good solid 10-year run, and that’s what I plan on doing. I’m in such a good spot right now where I don’t want to change anything I’m doing.”
That included continuing to work on his mental game, which Murray said has been “a 1 out of 10 for my whole career.” Earlier this month, in the two-week break between the first two of four Korn Ferry Finals events, Murray, as part of what he described as a “hard reset,” didn’t a touch a club for nine days and flew from Florida to San Diego for a training session with Tony Blauer, a renowned self-defense and “fear management” instructor who works with Navy SEALS.
“It’s crazy how fear is one of those things that it happens to all of us, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t experience fear,” Murray said. “Being out here on the golf course trying to win tournaments, there’s a lot of things going through your mind, and whether you want to call it fear or not, I think us men don’t like to use that word, but there’s a lot of times where, oh, there’s water left, you don’t want to hit it left — that’s a fear.”
Murray said the training was “exhausting” but rewarding, and in his next start — the second KFT Finals event, the Simmons Bank Open, in Nashville — he immediately put his new tools to use, including a custom ball marker Murray had commissioned with the acronyms “SOP” and “WIN” stamped on it, short for “succeed on purpose” and “what’s important now.”
“I just kept looking at that ball marker and it never got me looking ahead, it kept me in the moment,” he said.
All those little moments led to one big one: Murray’s second Korn Ferry win of the year, which guaranteed him a spot in the top 30 and a PGA Tour card for 2024. Afterward, Murray’s caddie, Kip Henley, said he’d never seen his man so calm and that Murray “absorbed the mistakes like he’d never seen him do.” Henley added, “If I have this guy every week, I’ll be wearing diamonds on every finger.”
Murray was reflective in victory. He ruefully looked back at the mistakes that “kept me from being the player that I could have been” but also ahead to the opportunity that awaits him. “I turn 30 in less than a month and I just kind of had a hard talk to myself and realized that I’m getting a second chance,” he said. “Luckily, we play a game where we can have careers into our 50s, so 30 is still young. I feel like I have a lot of good golf ahead of me.”